Oh, honey, I've been in so many codependent relationships I might as well start a band called "The Codependents." I would be the lead singer, my brother would be on drums and my parents would be the backup dancers. My childhood babysitter could even be on guitar. (God, her departure was so traumatic for the both of us, she had to wait until I was away at sleepaway camp to leave our family.)
Until recently, I didn't know there was any other kind of relationship dynamic.
Codependency, as I'm sure you know, is defined as, "A psychological condition in which someone is in an unhappy and unhealthy relationship that involves living with and providing care for another person (such as a drug addict or an alcoholic)."
I wasn't walking on solid ground in those days. There was no stable foundation keeping me afloat. I jumped from one scalding hot rock to the next, skittishly doing everything in my power to avoid burning my bare skin.
In short, I was depressed. And depression comes with a lovely internal shakiness that makes it feel like the slightest push can knock you to the ground.
I had just overcome a brutal, horrible, soul-sucking trauma, and I couldn't sleep. Nothing strips you of your confidence and makes you feel like a fragile shell of a human quite like not being able to sleep.
I started using drugs and booze to sleep. I was prescribed Ambien to help nod off (a load of them... 90, to be exact). I was also prescribed Lexapro, which I was told would quell my depression by giving me a surplus of serotonin. I also decided to play doctor and mix both the Ambien and the Lexapro with a pale yellow glass of white wine.
I'd never really been one to medicate myself into sleep, but at that point, I really felt like there was no other option. I was tired, babe. A girl just needs to fucking sleep, you know?
The problem is, when you're using outside things like pills and wine to fade the bad feels into nothingness, you might feel temporarily better, but it's a false feel-good. It's fleeting. And the moment the pills wear off, you're still stuck with yourself. You have to deal with yourself.
So, I was in this scatty place of feeling insecure and running away from my real issues with the help of chemicals, but also knowing that I was playing with fire. And I was just kind of hoping that I would live, please, until the next day.
When, all of a sudden, a girl named Pepper came into my life. And Pepper herself became my nice, numbing drug.
I stayed on the antidepressants, but stopped taking the Ambien and drinking as much. When I did drink, Pepper was always there to take care of me, make sure I got home safe, and hold me through the harrowing morning shame spiral.
I took care of Pepper in my own way, too. I helped her confront her abusive father. I got her into therapy for the first time, and she started to work through a decade of repressed family issues. I helped her find her career path.
We needed each other to function as whole people.
Pretty soon, Pepper and I stopped having sex entirely. The very thought of us screwing didn't get me excited in the slightest. We become these creepy, sexually ambiguous roommates, the kind of strange dynamic you see in those dark documentaries from the '80s.
One day, I told a close friend that Pepper and I weren't having sex anymore.
"You're not in love with her anymore if you don't want to screw her brains out, honey," he said to me, his sea foam green eyes turning a dark gray.
Deep down, I knew he was right. If you don't have a sexual connection, you're just dysfunctional friends.
I express the visceral, animalistic, wild feeling of love through being intimate with my partner, and when that's dead, the love is dead, too.
That depressed me.And since I irrationally feared I would actually die without her, breaking up wasn't a viable option. So, I thought, Maybe if I work on the sex, the romance will come back.
I tried to make an effort with sex to refuel our love, but it just wasn't there. Pretty soon, we were fighting like crazy, getting irrationally angry over everything. We were desperately clutching on to something that didn't exist, but not confronting it, and all the pent up emotion manifested in a series of stupid arguments about the dishes being dirty.
One day, I woke up really early, rolled over and stared at her warm, sleeping body. I realized, Shit, I don't love her.
Not in that way, at least. There were no butterflies. They flew the hell away and left me with nothing but dried up flowers and polluted dirt.
I loved her as a friend. She made me feel safe and whole. She distracted me from the scariness of the cruel world. Which is why, still, the thought of us breaking up made me feel so vulnerable and so afraid. I just couldn't go through with it.
So I settled for a sexless, loveless relationship over being alone. Because we were codependent.
I needed her presence to help me sleep and to stop abusing booze and pills. She needed me to act as her emotional tour guide, navigating her through her sea of uncharted feels.
When you're codependent, both of you feel like you can't live without each other. Both of you are filling the empty voids, the big, vacant gaps in each others' lives. And you're scared to death of the blank spaces.
You're codependent because neither of you are whole on your own. You need each other because you complete each other. That's very different from being in love.
Love is liking icing on a cake. The cake tastes good without it, and the cake can still own it's cake identity without icing. But a little sweet layer on the outside only makes it better.
When you're in love with someone, you're not filled with the incessant fear of losing them because you think you'll die without them.
You're filled with incessant fear of losing them because you want their electric presence in your life. You want to fuck them, fight with them, make up with them and really just get to know every facet of them.
But you don't need them to keep the blood pumping in your veins.
Now I know the exact moment I feel addicted to a human being. I'm madly feigning for them and withdrawing from them like a junkie. And when I'm feeling like I'm going to get sick without them, that's when I know I've become codependent.
I don't want that in my life. I want a strong, stable foundation, so I can only be with someone because I love them purely. I want to be with them because I love them as an individual, not because I'm using them as filler.
You can only let real love in without the risk of codependency when you're an independent person, which is why you need to keep cultivating that relationship with yourself.
Because, until you're whole as a separate entity, you're not going to find real love without that love being exploited by codependency.
Love is many things: It's kind, cruel, hurtful. But love should never, ever be exploitive.